Archaeological Find Updates History

Photo by Geir Ólafsson (not from the site discussed)

In mid-September, the news went out that a major archaeological find in Iceland suggested the country may have been inhabited as early as the year 800, or 74 years earlier than its official settlement date. Four weeks of excavation in Stöðvarfjörður, the East Fjords, under the direction of archaeologist Bjarni F. Einarsson, revealed some of the most interesting signs of human presence found in the country.

They suggest a longhouse was built there shortly after 800, but until now, Iceland’s first permanent Nordic settler, Ingólfur Arnarson, is said to have arrived in 874.

“The C-14 dating method shows a date shortly after the year 800,” Bjarni explained. “I have no reason to doubt that analysis.” Signs of human presence from a similar time have been discovered before in Kvosin, Reykjavík, in Hafnir, Reyjanes, and in Húshólmi by Krýsuvík.

The Stöðvarfjörður location is interesting, because the fjord has a good harbor and is the country’s closest location to Norway and the British Isles.

“The house structure is typically Nordic. The items are of the same kind as has been found in the whole Nordic area, which spans, of course, all the way to the British Isles. But whether it came from the British Isles, Norway or North Norway, we cannot tell, not yet,” Bjarni stated.

Several noteworthy tiny items have been found, such as a ring, silver coin, sharpener, pearls and washers.

A chalcedony discovered at the site proves that the people made utensils out of stone. Those people were no Stone Age men, Bjarni clarifies, but knew how to carve rocks: “Those were people who came from an environment where that was the custom, for example in North Scandinavia.”

Bjarni believes there are many indications this was not the farm of settlers, but an outpost that served as a predecessor to settlement, such as has been discovered in Hafnir, Reykjanes.

“What stands out is also the lack of bones, just like in Hafnir. Therefore, I suspect people did not keep animals here, but used this as a seasonal residence in order to exploit the natural resources the area offered,” Bjarni speculated.

The excavation ended September 12th, but it’s Bjarni’s hope that funding will be provided to continue the work in coming summers. The project is expected to take many years.

By Vala Hafstað

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